More than 15,000 National Guardsmen who have been occupying Washington DC are now being sent home but 7,000 will remain on duty until March because the 'threat of right-wing extremism' still lingers - as it's revealed that troops were ordered out of the Capitol overnight by a single officer who didn't have authority.
Nearly 26,000 National Guard troops from all 50 states poured into DC last week in response to escalating security threats and fears of more rioting in the wake of the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.
After Biden's inauguration went off with only a handful of minor arrests and incidents on Wednesday, 15,400 of those Guardsmen are now being sent home.
Roughly 7,000 troops are still expected to stay until at least March after local law enforcement asked for continued assistance, a National Guard official told Military.com.
Homeland Security director Chris Rodriguez said on Thursday that the 'threat of right-wing extremism is here' and will be 'a persistent threat' to DC for some time. National Guard Bureau chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson said that the reduction of troops would be 'conditioned based' going forward.
Road blocks and some of the steel anti-climb fences are w being removed from the 'green zone' perimeter in central DC. Road restrictions and closures have also now been lifted. Authorities are also urging businesses to remove boards erected prior to the inauguration.
First Lady Jill Biden, in her first solo outing in the role, visited the Guardsmen still serving out outside the Capitol on Friday to thank them for their service.
'I just wanted to come today to say thank you to all of you for keeping me and my family safe,' she told them as she handed out cookies.
She noted the Biden's were a National Guard family, invoking the memory of the late Beau Biden, who served in the Delaware National Guard. 'I'm a National Guard mom. The National Guard will always hold a special place in the hearts of all the Bidens.'
First Lady Jill Biden surprised National Guardsmen still on duty outside the Capitol with cookies on Friday
More than 15,000 National Guardsmen who have been occupying Washington DC are now being sent home but 7,000 will remain on duty until March because the 'threat of right-wing extremism' still lingers. Troops are pictured resting in the Capitol building on Friday after briefly being kicked out overnight
Roughly 7,000 troops are still expected to stay until at least March after local law enforcement asked for continued assistance. Members of the National Guard from South Dakota stood guard outside the Capitol building on Friday
The Guard is now helping states to coordinate the logistics of sending the 15,400 troops home but warned it might take several days.
'The planning and process may take several days, but arrangements are being made to return close to 15,000 troops as soon as possible and should conclude within a five to 10 day period,' the Guard said.
It was not immediately clear how many troops had already left DC. Among the logistics are Guard members having to turn in equipment and go through COVID-19 screening.
The troops that are leaving are expected to head home on buses or Air National Guard aircrafts. Some will travel by commercial flights if necessary.
A number of governors, including New Hampshire, Texas and Florida, had already issued orders for the immediate return of their troops after images of them sleeping outside and in a nearby parking garage overnight sparked outrage 24 hours after the inauguration.
The Guard said that Capitol Police had ordered the troops to leave the Capitol building and take their rest breaks in a nearby designated parking lot instead of the federal building.
Photos showed up to 5,000 Guardsmen sleeping on the floor of the packed Thurgood Marshall Building parking lot and in a park outside as temperatures hit a low of 40 degrees.
Jill Biden, in her first solo outing as first lady, stopped on Capitol Hill to thank National Guard members for their service
The above members of the National Guard were still stationed outside the Capitol on Friday
Road blocks and some of the steel anti-climb fences were now being removed from the 'green zone' perimeter in central DC
Road restrictions and closures have also now been lifted. Authorities are also urging businesses to remove boards erected prior to the inauguration
The scenes sparked immediate outrage among lawmakers as some Guardsmen revealed they felt 'incredibly betrayed' given they had just spent more than a week helping to fortify and protect the capital.
The troops were allowed to return to the Capitol overnight following the backlash.
Senators Jim Inhofe and Chuck Schumer revealed on Friday that it appears the troops were booted from the Capitol by a police officer who didn't go through the chain of command.
'There was one uniformed police officer who issued an order without authority or without going through the chain of command,' Inhofe said, adding he was glad Capitol Police and the Guard were trying to get to the bottom of it.
'We are going to be able to identify who that person was.'
When asked what happened, Schumer said: 'No one from anyone on high, but a few people said they had to leave. No one understood why. But it's gone. And they all had a nice place to stay... What happened was an outrage and it will not happen again.'
Guard spokesman Maj. Matt Murphy had earlier said Capitol Police had asked the troops to move their rest area given the increased foot traffic in the Capitol building given Congress is in session.
'They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities. We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas,' he said.
Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman issued a statement on Friday morning saying that police did not tell Guardsmen they had to vacate.
Thousands of National Guardsmen have now been allowed to return to the US Capitol after images of them sleeping outside and in a nearby parking garage overnight sparked outrage 24 hours after the inauguration. Troops are pictured above leaving the Thurgood Marshall Building parking lot just after dawn on Friday
Footage obtained by NBC News showed the Guardsmen filing out of the Thurgood Marshall Building parking lot in Washington DC overnight after they were permitted around midnight to return to the Capitol building in the wake of the fierce backlash
'It was brought to our attention early today that facility management with the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Office Building reached out directly to the National Guard to offer use of its facilities,' Pittman said.
'As of this morning, all Guardsmen and women have been relocated to space within the Capitol Complex. The Department is also working with the Guard to reduce the need for sleeping accommodations by establishing shorter shifts, and will ensure they have access to the comfortable accommodations they absolutely deserve when the need arises.'
The troops will take their breaks near the Emancipation Hall inside the Capitol building going forward.
The soldiers do have hotel rooms but their 12 hour shift pattern means they cannot easily return to their rooms during rest breaks.
Before being located to the parking lot, the troops had been allowed to take rest breaks inside the Capitol building.
Once they finish their shift, the Guardsmen then return to their hotel rooms.
The 26,000 Guard troops from all 50 states had poured into DC by the planeload and busload last week. They were scattered around the city, helping to secure the Capitol, monuments, Metro entrances and a 'green zone' perimeter of central DC that was locked down for several days leading up to the inaugural ceremony.
New Hampshire National Guard posted this image Wednesday with the caption: 'NH guardsmen slumber last night in a Washington, D.C. parking garage. Beginning a 36-hour security mission in support of the presidential inauguration, they staged in the garage overnight before standing security posts along the National Capital Region this morning'
Up to 5,000 troops have been kept without internet, with one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls, reports say
One soldier said: 'After everything went seamlessly, we were deemed useless and banished to a corner of a parking garage'
Pictures show Guardsmen sleeping on the floor of the packed parking lot Thursday, just 24 hours after the inauguration
In the wake of the controversy regarding being kicked out of the Capitol, one unnamed soldier had earlier said the forced move to the parking lot had left troops 'feeling incredibly betrayed'.
'Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service. Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed,' he said.
Another guardsman told CNN: 'After everything went seamlessly, we were deemed useless and banished to a corner of a parking garage.' One more told Task & Purpose: 'Leaving our families for the last two weeks to come down here. It's certainly important and historic, but the day after inauguration you kick us literally to the curb? Come on, man.'
Amid concerns about COVID-19 one soldier told The Washington Post : 'We are on top of each other all day, every day. We've given up.' Another added: 'Our guidance is if you're not eating or drinking, you need to be wearing a mask. We've already had just some in my unit alone test positive for Covid, and they're just keeping us packed together with caution tape in small areas. And that's the only authorized rest area.'
The images of the Guardsmen sparked fierce reaction from politicians on both sides of the aisle, with Democrats and Republicans demanding answers as to why the men and women were told to leave the Capitol complex.
Some offered their offices to the troops.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the soldiers 'deserve to be treated with respect'; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the move was 'outrageous'.